Nadia Sirota

Hidden Treasures 2013

Wondering Sound Staff

By Wondering Sound Staff

on 07.22.13 in Collections

Every year, hardcore music fans wrestle with the same wonderful problem: There are too many records. Even if we listened to nothing but new records, non-stop, the numbers just don’t add up; we’re going to miss something, it’s certain, something strange and special. But what? What are we missing?

We at eMusic know this exquisite pain better than anyone; the question “What are we missing?” keeps us up nights. Our Hidden Treasures feature is a partial answer. The records in this list span genres, from vintage soul to frozen Gothic pop; from death-obsessed classical song cycles to sloppy garage rock; from chamber music to churning doom metal. Some of these records were overshadowed by higher-profile releases in the same style; some are on labels that never get the attention they deserve. Some of these records are simply damned weird. They all caught our ears and hearts, however, for one reason or another, and we think they’ll do the same to you.

Bleak Visions

Pale Green Ghosts

John Grant

Every year, hardcore music fans wrestle with the same wonderful problem: There are too many records. Even if we listened to nothing but new records, non-stop, the numbers just don't add up; we're going to miss something, it's certain, something strange and special. But what? What are we missing?

We at eMusic know this exquisite pain better than anyone; the question "What are we missing?" keeps us up nights. Our Hidden Treasures feature is a partial answer. The records in this list span genres, from vintage soul to frozen Gothic pop; from death-obsessed classical song cycles to sloppy garage rock; from chamber music to churning doom metal. Some of these records were overshadowed by higher-profile releases in the same style; some are on labels that never get the attention they deserve. Some of these records are simply damned weird. They all caught our ears and hearts, however, for one reason or another, and we think they'll do the same to you.

Sky Burial

Inter Arma

Every year, hardcore music fans wrestle with the same wonderful problem: There are too many records. Even if we listened to nothing but new records, non-stop, the numbers just don't add up; we're going to miss something, it's certain, something strange and special. But what? What are we missing?

We at eMusic know this exquisite pain better than anyone; the question "What are we missing?" keeps us up nights. Our Hidden Treasures feature is a partial answer. The records in this list span genres, from vintage soul to frozen Gothic pop; from death-obsessed classical song cycles to sloppy garage rock; from chamber music to churning doom metal. Some of these records were overshadowed by higher-profile releases in the same style; some are on labels that never get the attention they deserve. Some of these records are simply damned weird. They all caught our ears and hearts, however, for one reason or another, and we think they'll do the same to you.

First, I feel it's important to say that, as of this writing, David Lang is nowhere near death. I see him walking through the neighborhood from time to time and he is his usual cheery, deadpan self. And yet the Bang on A Can co-founder has produced an incandescent string of pieces in recent years focused exclusively on death and dying. His Pulitzer Prize-winning Little Match Girl Passion gravely watches a poor young girl freeze to death as passersby ignore her. His yet-to-be-recorded Love Fail takes an oblique look at the fatal love affair between Tristan and Isolde. His haunting, drifting Salle des Departs (recorded here under the title "Depart") was written for a hospital morgue. And then there's Death Speaks, a five-movement work which takes up most of this recording. Here, death is not an event, but a figure, like something out of an engraving by Albrecht Dürer. But unlike the American folk song "O Death," in which Death is a scary, implacable foe — the singer asks, "oh Death, won't you pass me over another year" — Lang has assembled a text in which Death is addressing us, with a message that is ultimately reassuring, and comforting.

The text is built around the many and varied instances in the songs of Franz Schubert in which the figure of Death speaks. The music, as in the other death-themed works named above, has a transparent texture that sets off and subtly colors those texts, and the voice delivering it. That voice belongs to Shara Worden, one of the current breed of musicians who move fluidly between the worlds of classical music and indie rock. While still leading her own band, My Brightest Diamond, Worden has become the go-to voice for the so-called "indie classical" crowd. The rest of the ensemble here is equally remarkable: Bryce Dessner, one of the twin electric guitarists from the popular rock band The National, and a fine composer himself; Owen Pallett, the violinist, vocalist and composer who formerly recorded as Final Fantasy; and Nico Muhly, the in-demand composer and keyboardist whose works range from choral to electronic. With essentially an all-star band, Lang has chosen to write music which is not conventionally virtuosic, relying instead of the quartet's musicality and precision. The results are quietly stunning. Highlights include the gentle, chiming minimalism of part 1, "You Will Return"; the resonant percussive use of the piano's bass end in part 2, "I Hear You"; the deft, rhythmic use of the violin in part 3, "Mist Is Rising"; and the lovely duet that blossoms in part 5, "I Am Walking."

After Death Speaks, the album invites you to relax in the dark-hued but warm ambience of "Depart," for chorus and strings. Probably best not to think too much of the French morgue for which it was written.



Metal typically exists in a kind of "either/or" dichotomy: either bands are grinding and infernal or they're triumphant and anthemic. The Norwegian group Kvelertak is strictly "both/and." Their scorching second record Meir pairs the bludgeoning brutality of bands like Cannibal Corpse Rotting Christ with the kind of sugary hookiness typically found on an album by Andrew W.K. "Manelyst" is the perfect example: It opens with a barrage of barnstorming chords, a terrifying asteroid shower of sound, before cruising up into a refrain that's practically singable, sounding like something from the Rocket From the Tombs catalog, if someone set vocalist John Reis on fire. "Burane Brenn" opens full-hurtle, frontman Erlend Hjelvik's wrecked-larynx howls offset by a holler-along soccer-anthem chorus. Kvelertak ride AC/DC's "Highway to Hell" right to its fiery end, and stage a never-ending kegger amid the flames.

It may be glib to assume that London-based producer Bobby Krlic dwells exclusively on the dark side, but given the evidence it's hardly unreasonable. His alias references a 1922 Scandinavian docudrama about witchcraft and inquisition, and his 2011 self-titled debut album aligned him with avant-black-metal/doom acts like Mayhem and Sunn O))). And the sleeve of his gloomily titled follow-up depicts a single length of rope coiled into a noose.

However, The Haxan Cloak's thrillingly dark and chilly aesthetic goes far deeper than the kind of parent-bothering occult primer these details might suggest. There are echoes of Burial's cavernous dub and Demdike Stare's haunted techno in Excavation, but its magnificently maleficent, post-dubstep soundscapes have more in common with musique concrete, Expressionist cinema soundtracks and medieval monastic cantos than so-called witch house or drone metal.

Krlic's sounds are again rooted in acoustics (cello, violin, guitar, vocals) and field recordings, but this time they've been heavily processed — magnified, stretched, dissembled, reconstituted and rearranged — to produce nine micro-symphonies of stark beauty and extraordinary menace. Whether suggesting the dull throb of an old nuclear power plant, the spooked echo inside an abandoned iron foundry or the howl of an Arctic wind at a remote scientific station, they evoke a compressed anxiety that seeps into every note, causing the likes of "Dieu" to heave and quiver before it dies away and underlining the fact that despite its title, epic closer "The Drop" is concerned with something rather more ominous than build-and-break patterns.

Pharmakon is noise artist Margaret Chardiet, but you'd be forgiven for thinking it was some infernal ghoul. Abandon opens with a scream, and then plunges to unholy depths, full of icepick electronics, horrifying turbine wooshes and suffocating layers of static. It makes Swans sound like The Byrds.

A Breathtaking Trip to That Otherside

Alexander Spit

Alexander Spit's bleak, baleful Breathtaking Trip to That Otherside is not good-times music. Spit is from California, but his dank, druggy rap music feels allergic to sunshine. Spit produced the entire album, and his sticky, bleary sound owes more to Dilla and RZA. Everything seems to move through a thick film, including Spit's raps, which gob up into bits of blacklit surrealism about Roswell and chemtrails and unspool into long spleen-venting rants. If you've ever sat, stoned, in an apartment during a blazingly hot day with the blinds drawn, Breathtaking Trip will feel clammily familiar.

Nirvana once wrote a song called "Endless, Nameless." Take a look at this picture of Portal's lead vocalist, and then submit to the swirling, backed-up churn of "Orbmorphia," from the Australian death metal band's fourth album Vexovoid, and you may find yourself with an entirely new appreciation of what those two words can mean.

Portal, as a band, is all texture, no melody. But they have mastered so many different textures that you never think to yearn for melody. The down-tuned guitars, gurgling beneath the ever-shifting blastbeats of the drums, bring to mind all kinds of things, none of them musical: the alarming suck of wet mud when you walk in loose boots, the sounds old motorcycle engines make. The album title evokes a zone of confusion, a place where you can't get your bearings and the ground is constantly shifting. Exactly.

Play any of the songs on the harrowing third record by Alison Chesley — who records as Helen Money — on electric guitar, and you'd have one of the most brutal, unnerving metal records of the year. But play them as she does on cello, and — well, you still have one of the most brutal, unnerving metal records of the year. Much of this comes from Chesley's command of dynamic. Aptly-titled album-opener "Upsetter" starts with a low thrum that skitters forward like a tarantula before erupting into slasher-film goring, Chesley's instrument so distortion-caked it sounds like a rotary saw. She's joined by Neurosis drummer Jason Roeder on "Beautiful Friends," which progresses from seasick lurch to undead horse stampede, growing more violent and insistent as it goes on. It's a snarling, suffocating record, and by the time you get to the avalanche that concludes "Radio Recorders," it's clear the angels of the title aren't coming down from the sky, but up from below, horns gleaming, eyes yellow as old bones.

Obsidian Spectre


In the chilling video for CROSSS's "Bones Brigade", a figure in an ominous black cloak kneels motionless on a beach, staring blankly off into the grey sky, as if in a trance. He remains like that, stock still, hypnotized, for a full three minutes and 30 seconds, his motionlessness becoming more sickeningly unsettling the longer it lasts. Finally, at the end of the video, he bows — as if in supplication to some god or spirit or eerie form that only he can see. He straightens, and the video cuts to black. That turns out to be a handy encapsulation of the Halifax group's aesthetic: slow-moving, hypnotic and deeply, deeply creepy. Sounding something like Thee Oh Sees slowed down to about 2 RPM, the group tops grimy, repetitive chord patterns with wicked-warlock sneering, making for a final product that feels invested with prime '70s sorcery rock black magick. "Smoke" warns, "Look into your mind's eye/ don't forget to not let your guard down" as guitars churn and boil like the steaming liquid in a witch's cauldron. "Old Sound" draws its dark strength from its continual, gooseflesh-raising dives from major to minor key. Throughout, its members acquit themselves as if they've all just done kegstands with the blood of Kali Ma — dead-eyed, dutiful, and wearing sickening grimaces.

Lost Mixtape Gems

Out of View

The History Of Apple Pie

On their debut album Out of View, London quintet The History of Apple Pie blend the most precious of indie-pop impulses with the messiest squalling noise-rock has to offer. Vocalist Stephanie Min's feathery vocals float high in the mix, leaving her teen-romance lyrics ("We're having so much fun in the light of the sun/ You're so cool") faintly discernible above the thick clouds of My Bloody Valentine-style glide guitar that threaten to overwhelm them. It's that constant give-and-take between pop and art-rock chaos that keeps Out of View interesting: A gruff chord or two always cuts the cotton candy at just the right moment, like when the full-on breakdown interrupts the strawberry lemonade-flavored workout "I Want More." On "Mallory," the daydreaming verses and the yearning melody are tossed about by an underlayer of sneering riffs and distorted noise. No one side ever wins out over the other for long and the seesawing can give you a powerful sugar buzz.

On Cruise Your Illusion, the first proper full-length from Olympia, Washington's Milk Music, the quartet wedges itself somewhere within the SST Records-Neil Young-Wipers universe, pitting sweat-stained, heavy hardcore punk against indelible melodies and endless sincerity. Since their early output, a 2009 demo cassette and a 12-inch in 2010, the band has turned their DIY determination into full-fledged ambition, and the songs on Cruise are as honest and spiritual as they are messy and loud. On "Lacey's Secret," Alex Coxen's shouting, imperfect voice cuts through the instrumental heap with lines that that scan endearingly like poetry in a rest-stop bathroom: "You got to get all you can here/ when you're burning every night".

The songs on Cruise Your Illusion bask in youthful charm. "…And although the sun sets heavy on the dreamer/ You can feed your pain to the song," Coxens sings on "No, Nothing, My Shelter" as the band rips into the overdriven wail of "Coyote Road" before running amok on "I've Got A Wild Feeling," a populist manifesto that might as well be the band's anthem. When Milk Music started out, their songs were loud, fast and full of Big Muff. And while the sound is still bruising on their debut, they've found a larger scope and a deeper message. On "Cruising With God" Coxen invites the listener into the band's inner sanctum: "They all love our songs/ But even with the music on/ Baby you've got it all wrong/ You haven't danced in so long."

Colleen Green writes simple songs about simple things and records them as simply as possible. The first song on the irresistible Sock it to Me is basically just Green singing, "Oh yeah, uh-huh, oh God, I really love my boyfriend," and the lazer-light dollar-store Elastica song "You're So Cool" builds to an equally straightforward refrain: "You're so cool, how do you do it? You act like there is nothing to it." Her logo is a stick-figure drawing of herself that looks not entirely unlike Fido Dido's long-lost sister, and her music is defiantly, joyously basic: just Green's distorted guitar, pouting voice and a Goodwill Store drum machine.

But lean closer in and the images start to distort. Green opens the provocatively-titled "Every Boy Wants a Normal Girl" by singing, "Sometimes I wish I was a normal girl," and then follows it with the height of abnormality: "Like the ones on TV, like the ones in the movies." The drowsy "Darkest Eyes" scans quickly as plainspoken puppy love, with Green celebrating her true love's eyes and contemplating how to retain his affections. And what's her solution? "There's no better way to keep appearances preserved/ than a razor to the optic nerve." And then you skip back to that first song, the one where she's singing about loving her boyfriend, and catch what she says near the ending: "When he tells me that he loves me, I lose the air from my lungs/ his love has finally killed me." Sock it to Me is strychnine-laced Strawberry Fanta.

Anyone looking for a 21st-century analog to Weezer's "El Scorcho" should start with "I Got Skills" from the debut album by the Belgian group Mozes & the Firstborn. It's got a similarly motley, gang-hollered chorus, that same nerdish braggadocio ("I got skills to make it through your doorway") and a shambling, thrown-together aesthetic that is charming in spite of itself. The rest of the record pinballs between that same kind of Jr. High sheepishness — "Skinny Girl" is what Mellow Gold might have sounded like if Beck was a teenager when he recorded it — and genuine star swagger. "Peter Jr." opens with an instant-classic rock couplet — "The longer you work here/ the less you get paid" — before sailing straight into the kind of cruising melodicism that characterizes the best Brian Jonestown Massacre songs (its cocky stride singlehandedly earns the group the right to own this coat) Mozes and the Firstborn are teenage panic and grown-up confidence all at once.

As K-Holes, Jack and Julie Hines kick up an unholy racket. Their work as Georgiana Starlington is different in sound, but just as grim in feel. Their dusky, country-influenced songs foreground their dazed, trancelike vocals as they glide over arid guitar like phantoms across the prairie at midnight.

Boasting the same feral ferocity as '70s US post-punkers like Rocket From the Tombs and Pere Ubu, Ex-Cult (nee Sex Cult) solder clambering riffs to half-spoken, half-hollered vocals and drench the resulting songs in enough echo to make them sound almost alien. Much murkier and moodier than the music of their producer Ty Segall, Ex-Cult seethe and stalk where Segall storms right in. "Shade of Red" circles and circles, guitars humming like old Cessnas looking for a place to land. "On Film" is doomier — its downcast bassline could have been lifted from Unknown Pleasures, its howled chorus coming off like some dark warning from a fortune teller. Throughout it sounds both ragged and well-aged — like a relic from an earlier era, recently unearthed. That they are both new and still active is to our great fortune.

On their fourth LP, Young Galaxy go big, trading woozy, lo-fi-leaning dreampop for busy, dancefloor-ready electropop hits. They returned to producer Dan Lissvik, who worked on 2011's Shapeshifting, but this time the group traveled from Canada to Lissvik's studio in Sweden instead of sending their unfinished recordings overseas. The result is slick, cinematic and cohesive: There are disco influences ("Out the Gate Backwards"), tropical beats ("Fall For You"), and glorious pop anthems ("Pretty Boy," "Fever"). In losing all hints of the haziness that masks their earlier releases, Young Galaxy simultaneously shed the Slowdive comparisons and make their best record yet.

Like a lollipop caught in a lint filter, Peach Kelli Pop nestles sticky sweetness beneath layers of cottony fuzz. The group, fronted and more or less embodied by White Wires' Allie Hanlon, takes their name from a Redd Kross song, and in many ways, they're that group's cheaper, sunnier analog. Both bands have a fondness for immediately-memorable hooks and piles of guitar, but Peach Kelli Pop seems to be constantly operating in fast-forward. "Panchito Blues II" sounds like the Shangri-La's trying to outrun The Monkees, and "Julie Oulie" is floor-filler at a jackrabbit sock hop. By the time your brain has caught up you're ready to savor the sweetness, the next song is half over.

Australia's Bed Wettin' Bad Boys are basically a drunker version of The Faces, a bunch of hooligans getting shitty on Foster's then stumbling over to their guitars, cranking the amps and seeing what happens. Their live shows are notoriously sloppy (and, depending on whom you talk to, hilarious or infuriating) — bend members swap instruments, goof off interminably between songs and pound beer after beer after beer.

We're spared all of that on the amazingly-titled Ready for Boredom, skipping instead right to the busted Mustang riffing and the blown-throat vocals. "Sally" is to The Rolling Stones "Happy" what Turkish Star Wars is to regular Star Wars: It has a lot of the same component parts — a blues lick deep-fried in axle grease, a somersaulting two-note hook — but is decidedly lower-budget and flaunts its inattention to detail. Their closest US analog is probably The Men — both bands mine classic rock for its junkiest spare parts — but the Bad Boys are sloppier and soggier still. The glistening album-closer "Keep it From You" is the closest they get to actual sentiment, but Nic Warnock's heartsick lyrics sound like they're coming from the business end of a drunk dial. He may not remember what he said in the morning, but he sounds like he means it in the moment. And isn't that all that matters?

The phrase "French Films" doesn't generally evoke the happiest images: the last-act betrayal in Breathless, a stricken Jean Pierre-Leaud standing balefully on the beach in The 400 Blows, pretty much all of Shoot the Piano Player. So chalk up the fact that this impossibly hooky Finnish band chose it as their handle to either irony or bad translation. Or move right past it and get right to the main thing that matters: the songs. And what songs they are: French Films force-feed uppers to the Field Mice and kick the keyboard player out of New Order, delivering a batch of breathless Britpop-inspired songs with gargantuan choruses and guitar lines that glisten and glide like tiny tin airplanes. "Never let me go, never let me go," is the central plea on the rocketing "Where We Come From" — which, sonically, is the Pains of Being Pure at Heart by way of recent Mikal Cronin. As if shaking free of songs this addictive were even an option.

Rare Birds & Strange Beasts

Sing To the Moon

Laura Mvula

"I don't need love to rescue me/ I'll be all that I choose to be," Laura Mvula sings on "Make Me Lovely," the second track on Sing to the Moon. The British soul singer's voice is as strong as her sentiment, augmented further by delicate orchestra flourishes, soulful handclaps and college-a cappella-style vocal acrobatics. Elsewhere, Mvula fights against ideas of conventional beauty ("That's Alright"), sings about the power of music during hard times ("Sing to the Moon"), and triumphs over loves that didn't work out ("Flying Without You"). A truly stunning, powerful debut.

Apocalypse, the follow-up to the madcap jazz-fusion/Saturday-morning-cartoon hallucination that was The Golden Age of the Apocalypse, explores the more chilled-out and unzipped side of Stephen Bruner. Bruner's command of jazz, R&B, Quiet Storm and straight-ahead bachelor-pad pop is stunning, and this gorgeous album makes a nice companion to the new Daft Punk.

Creating a sense of mystery in an age of instant information is difficult, but Serafina Steer manages it beautifully with her third album, The Moths Are Real. There's nothing particularly enigmatic about her CV — classically trained London harpist who has worked with Bat For Lashes, Patrick Wolf and John Foxx — but left to her own devices, Steer enters a world of her own, drawing you in by her side. Produced by Jarvis Cocker, The Moths Are Real flickers between the physical realities of love, sadness and urban life — the naked romance of "Skinny Dipping," the wintery alienation of "Ballad Of Brick Lane" — and a frosted mythological wonderland that lurks the other side of the looking glass. It's a record that trembles on the threshold between worlds, not just in its merging of folk, psychedelia, prog and electronica, but in the way the lyrics are sweetly conversational one second ("Of course, my scanty life philosophy, as you suspected all along, is actually based on lines from songs," shrugs "Disco Compilation") and as stylized and strange as a temple oracle the next ("Island Odyssey," "Lady Fortune"). The reference points might seem to be in place — Joanna Newsom, Shirley Collins, Alice Coltrane, Robert Wyatt — but Steer sends the compass needle spinning, charting the places where magic and mystery poke through threadbare normality.

Few have ever looked to Australia for the latest trends in electronic music. Although it has produced its fair share of innovators, from disco flirts Vanda & Young to hip auteurs The Avalanches, Down Under electronic music is largely seen as the foppish cousin to rock's more masculine manoeuvres. There was a brief flirtation with acid house in the early '90s, mainly fueled by British ex-pats, but interest was always confined to pockets of aficionados. Until, that is, the arrival of Flume on forward-thinking label Future Classic.

With comparisons to The Weeknd and Toro Y Moi (whom he supported on a recent London date), 21-year-old Harley Streten has seemingly risen from nowhere to produce one of the most exciting electronic debuts of the year. Breakthrough single "Holdin' On" is a sublime slice of wobblesome R&B, while the instrumental "Ezra" has crunk beats leavened with a hook that could have been lifted from the Art of Noise. "Left Alone," which features Melbourne's magnificently-named Chet Faker, feels delivered straight from a Pentecostal church rather than a precocious kid from the Sydney 'burbs, while "More Than You Thought" veers towards stomping Skrillex territory without ever resorting to the easy pay-offs the American producer favors.

This album has already knocked Justin Bieber off the No. 1 spot in Australia — an astonishing achievement for music that is still some way from being pure pop. From a trickle to a torrent: This Flume is unstoppable.

At this point, the breakup album has been bent into countless shapes. So rather than try to re-shape it, on their debut album My Gold Mask's Gretta Rochelle and Jack Armondo simply amplified its effects. They didn't skimp on dramatics, with Rochelle's pleading vocals, Armondo's spiraling guitar riffs and lyrics that grapple with psychosis and reference Gothic literature and Italo horror flicks. The result achieves a spellbinding emotional intensity that's easy to inhabit.

Nadia Sirota: Baroque

Nadia Sirota

Nadia Sirota is the violist of choice for the New York contemporary-classical scene, and on Baroque, she follows up her astoundingly assured debut, First Things First, with fresh works from many of the composers who contributed to that recording. Judd Greenstein's piece for seven violas (all of them multitracked by Sirota), "In Teaching Others We Teach Ourselves," employs a variety of dizzying riffs, separated by episodes of subtle pizzicato, in order to evoke the many stages of cosmos-crossing undertaken by the famous "Golden Record" shot into deep space by NASA back in 1977. It's also a tour de force opportunity for Sirota to show off her otherworldly chops and a variety of techniques: Nico Muhly's jaunty "Etude 3" is as memorable as the two others in his series, which he gave Sirota the first time around, and is a showcase for Sirota the player.

But there are new composers this time as well, even if they are generally familiar to the New Amsterdam coterie. Shara Worden's "From the Invisible to the Visible" is a brief, attractive offering that introduces keyboards and organs into the mix to considered effect. Missy Mazzoli's "Tooth and Nail" continues the electronic theme and is the album's standout, featuring some exciting hyper-glitch programming by the composer in during its opening minutes. Solid pieces from Paul Corley and Daniel Bjarnason complete this satisfying program, which, while more tricked-out electronically than Sirota's first offering, retains her aesthetic imprint.

Smart Ass Black Boy

Fat Tony

Fat Tony is the kind of guy fated to slip between the cracks. He's from Houston, but sounds like no Texas rappers; occasionally political, but not much of a firebrand; muted and thoughtful, but no one's idea, really, of a "conscious rapper." He has a casual, conversational voice, and his raps tumble out like early Common, before he got too serious. There are dumb puns, a few trenchant insights and, above all, an appealing confidence. The entire project was produced by Tom Cruz, a producer with a rubbery, cut-and-paste style, and Smart Ass Black Boy slips by agreeably like a late night dorm room bull session.

"We have a new business model, we'll blow you for a nickel." This is the acidic guitarist Marc Ribot, summing up the effect that the internet has had on the value of recorded music, in one pithy quote. Ribot, who played with Tom Waits just as the singer was morphing from hobo crooner to glass-spitting carnie barker, has never been afraid of sharp edges, and has made his career since his Waits days in the avant-garde circuit. But Your Turn is a veer back into rock-song territory, albeit rock songs with big crayon doodles all over them: Title track "Your Turn" is a driving motorik groove defaced with a sloppy guitar solo that could be a Shreds video.

In his performances as DJ/rupture, Jace Clayton has been part of that experimental breed of DJ/producers who draw on the sounds of the classical avant-garde. But while names like Edgard Varese, Iannis Xenakis and Karlheinz Stockhausen have become hip in DJ culture, Clayton has turned to one of music's true outliers, the gay African-American composer Julius Eastman. (Both his sexual orientation and race figure prominently in his titles.) The Julius Eastman Memorial Depot is neither a mash-up nor a straight remix. It is a recasting and reimagining of two of Eastman's most important and defining works, "Evil Nigger" and "Gay Guerrilla," both originally for four pianos but arranged here for two pianos and live electronics. And it is a remarkable, heartfelt tribute to a man who was a fixture on the New York "downtown" scene in the '70s and '80s, performing with Meredith Monk and singing the lead role in Peter Maxwell Davies's Eight Songs For a Mad King before succumbing to alcohol and drug addiction, homelessness and death at the age of 49.

"Evil Nigger, Part 1" is almost pretty, with the layered chiming of its minimalist pianos; Part 2 abruptly switches to a more obviously electronic sound; Part 3 takes on a darker, dramatic hue as the music descends to the bass end of the keyboards, heaving and rolling in waves of increasingly dense sound that almost sounds like a kind of broadband drone. The final part announces itself with the sounds of glitch electronica, while the piano textures thin out, creating a sense both of space and of expectation that something will soon come rushing in to fill it. Shards of gamelan-like piano, impossibly rapid trills and tolling chords hover around the edges of the mix, until a brief explosion of massive piano sounds takes over. It ends as ambiguously as one of Bela Bartok's nachtmusik ("night music") pieces, with the half-remembered echoes of those earlier trills in a haunted electroacoustic haze.

"Gay Guerrilla," in five parts, begins with the steady pulse of the pianos; Clayton's electronics are subtle but telling, often hard to distinguish from the pianos themselves. In Part 2, a web of shifting electronic drones grows out of the patter of almost bell-like tones in the upper registers of the keyboards. When the pianos return, in a gently galloping rhythm, the result is perhaps the most conventionally beautiful music here. "Conventionally" being a relative term, of course. Part 3 begins to build up rhythmic counterpoint that sounds reminiscent of Steve Reich's work, but no sooner does that happen then the sound of a turntable dying brings the music to a grinding halt — at which point we hear Martin Luther's hymn "A Mighty Fortress Is Our God." (This appropriation appears in Eastman's original version of the piece.) Echoes of that tune flit through the thick piano textures of Part 4; and Part 5, with its endlessly ascending pianos, has a more reflective, even valedictory cast.

The album concludes with a Jace Clayton original, a short song that takes the wry humor of Eastman's own work and turns it on the usual "equal-opportunity employment" speech, turning it into a pensive contemplation of a man who was driven to despair in part by a lack of employment opportunities.

Betty Rubble: The Initiation

Mykki Blanco

Mykki Blanco is a performance artist, a black gay drag queen and a rapper. She is the center of her own Venn diagram, in other words, and on Betty Rubble she went from "promising" to great. Her voice is raspy and manic, a bit of Lil Wayne at his most enthusiastically unhinged and a bit of Young Dro in how audibly she relishes the vowel and consonant sounds leaving her mouth. The beats on Rubble are a collision of electro, snap music and Neptunes, a lot of empty space and room for attitude and personality. Blanco obliges, calling herself "Richie Rich with a clit in the middle" and interpolating "If I Was a Rich Man" on "Angggry Birdz" and telling a hilariously detailed story about a tour-stop conquest on "Vienna."

Out-of-Time Dispatches

The most attractive thing about Ólöf Arnalds's music is the sense of mystery. Beginning with her beguiling 2007 debut Við og Við, Arnalds spun songs that felt like recitations from some yellowing old elvish spell book, her soprano curling like enchanted vines and gentle guitar spinning out notes like spiderwebs reflecting sunlight. That she sang in Icelandic — with its strange vowel runs and twisting cadence — only made her songs feel more otherworldly. So it's no small risk for her to write and sing the entirety of Sudden Elevation in English; like a sitcom actor suddenly deciding to go Method, peeling away Arnalds's gauzy façade leaves the raw essence of her music exposed.

The good news is that the songs can bear the scrutiny. Sudden Elevation contains all the tender beauty of Arnalds's previous efforts — the wandering-bard guitar playing, the vocal melodies that bob like butterflies in a spring breeze. And though her lyrics are in English, that doesn't mean they're any more easily parsed. The verses in the gently waltzing "Return Again," for instance, are tangled as old riddles. Though the decision to forsake her native tongue could be read as a bid for more mainstream acceptance, thankfully, Arnalds has resisted any temptation to further burnish her sound. There are no horn charts, no swooping orchestras, nothing much beyond Arnalds's guitar and voice. All of this only contributes to Sudden Elevation's dreamlike feel: You can understand the words and make sense of the general narrative, but the overall meaning remains as alluringly ambiguous as ever.

Leanin' On Slick


From the breaks that first propelled Kool Herc's parties in '73 to Dre's minimoogs to Mystikal's manic James Brown tics, funk has not only provided a foundational structure to hip-hop, it's often risen to the surface and flat-out driven it. West Coast indie-rap vet Aceyalone has spent more than 20 years riding the outskirts of that territory, through his time with Freestyle Fellowship to his cult-classic solo debut All Balls Don't Bounce to the later-career triumph of RJD2 teamup "A Beautiful Mine" (aka the Mad Men theme song). So after a long career — concurrent with a stab at making another excursion into grown-man rap — Leanin' on Slick sees Aceyalone toeing that line between underground rap and the traditions that scene built its base on.

The title track draws off the J.B.'s sound more in a way befitting a '70s indie-label garage-funk band (or a Daptonian revivalist group) than, say, the Bomb Squad, and the lyrical conceit isn't the only throwback — Acey's smooth-rolling delivery relays hustler tales from days when Caddies rolled long and low instead of high on 24s. That's not the only nod to vintage soul: "I Can Get It Myself" cockily struts through the door that James Brown demanded be opened back in '69, the handclaps and horn stabs of "What You Gone Do With That" is an old-school road-show with Acey's own overdubbed echoes standing in for call-and-response vocalists, and the pairing of his steady-job grind motivation with a wailing Cee-Lo chorus makes "Workin' Man's Blues" the closest Aceyalone's come to a genuine but uncompromised potential pop crossover. If the record vibe skews older, it's by design — leadoff cut "30 and Up" practically decrees it — but if this is the album young Aceyalone figured he'd be making once he approached middle age, he had some right-thinking foresight.

The 29-year-old singer/songwriter, slide guitarist and eMusic Selects alum Luke Winslow-King is from Michigan, but he has called The Big Easy home since 2001. On his third full-length, you can hear that the city has made its way into his bones. On The Coming Tide, Winslow-King masters the art of revivalist folk, seamlessly blending New Orleans jazz, Delta blues and ragtime into an album as sweet and satisfying as devouring plate of beignets and sipping a café au lait on the banks of the Mississippi.

Accompanied by his girlfriend, the sugary-voiced, washboard-wielding Esther Rose, Winslow-King amasses a fine collection of traditionalist originals and personalized covers on The Coming Tide. Rose sings harmony while a thumping upright bass and a brass section leading call-and-repeats accompany them, and the album sways with easy confidence. Winslow-King particularly shines in his blues numbers, namely a faithful, slower rendition of Blind Willie Johnson's "Keep Your Lamp Trimmed and Burning" and a slide-driven cover of "Got My Mind Set On You," made famous by George Harrison in the late '80s. Nostalgia rains heavy on The Coming Tide, but Winslow-King reins it in, refashioning weathered words and sounds and branding them his own.

Given her avowed love of old Hollywood glamour (just check out that album cover), the title of Caitlin Rose's sophomore full-length likely refers to the 1937 backlot comedy The Stand-In, about a love triangle between the title character, a hapless number cruncher and a hopeless film producer. While Rose does write about similar romantic confusions, the film reference nevertheless comes across as false modesty: On these dozen songs, she emerges as a confident, distinctive pop-country artist with a biting lyrical style and a smart way with a hook. Perhaps A Star Is Born sounded too cocky?

Like any good actress, Rose has impressive range. The Stand-In has roots in classic country, displaying the poise of Tammy Wynette on "Everywhere I Go" and the assertiveness of Loretta Lynn on "Waitin'." Standout "Golden Boy" casts her as a countrypolitan chanteuse against a widescreen arrangement that recalls Owen Bradley, and she turns that chorus into a gently devastating plea: "Golden boy, don't go away/ I won't ask you what you're here for/ If you stay." Occasionally she holds her twang in check, but for the most part her vocals are expressive, building from the conspiratorial whisper of "When I'm Gone" to the full-throated belt of "Only a Clown."

Rarely reverent to one style or genre, The Stand-In mixes country with classic rock, radio pop, and even speakeasy jazz on closer "Old Numbers." The rollicking Hank- and Tennessee Williams-inspired "Menagerie" and first single "Only a Clown" both hinge on Byrds-style guitar riffs that suggest an affinity for West Coast nuggets, and the Las Vegas-set "Pink Champagne" is debauched country folk, a sad-eyed and slightly sloshed reimagining of Gram Parsons's "Sin City." No matter how blue she sounds, there's always a lively hint of humor even in her despair — a distinguishing trait that suggests she may be ready for her close-up.

Berberian Sound Studio


When it came to soundtracking Peter Strickland's horror film Berberian Sound Studio, about a British sound engineer working for an Italian film company in the 1970s, there could have been no other name on the list than Broadcast. The band, aka Trish Keenan and James Cargill, were recording this album when Keenan died from pneumonia in 2011, age just 42, and it is a sublime, sad reminder of a remarkable talent lost. On their own albums, the pair's haunting songs are constructed from elements that evoke half-remembered television themes, or a ghostly folk group transmitting from the future. It's rare that a soundtrack album constructed from fragments of music and snatches of dialogue is a rewarding listen, but Broadcast — perhaps because they are so adept at creating otherworldly sounds from pop's detritus — managed it beautifully here. Some of the tracks are genuinely unnerving, such as "Mark Of The Devil," its mean electronic pulses and chants sounding like wraiths in charge of a power station, or the guttural gabbling of "A Goblin." These terrifying moments are contrasted with pastoral instrumentals, built largely from flute, xylophone and organ, which could soundtrack a cold, misty morning as well as the original film. A bewitching last Broadcast.

Singer-songwriter Samantha Crain has always sounded like an old soul, her dusty alto worn down by restless thoughts and free-floating anxiety. On the autobiographical Kid Face, the Oklahoma native sounds even more wizened as she explores loneliness, wanderlust and emotional disruption. Produced by John Vanderslice, Kid Face is a sparse record, laced with stark folk and Americana signifiers: acoustic guitar, wobbly piano, curled pedal steel and keening violin. Shambling banjo, stabs of synthesizer or electric guitar add occasional jolts of urgency to the mix.

But significantly, Crain comes into her own as a lyricist on Kid Face. Besides being a meticulous wordsmith ("I'm going to shows, counting my toes and crying over you" is how she describes one particularly trying breakup), she offers thorough, unflinching self-analysis. Crain uses Kid Face's songs to examine her place in the world — and figure out how her actions affect others, for better and for worse. "Churchill" addresses the realization that "my whole life I thought I was an opportunist/ But I'm not"; "Sand Paintings" struggles with overcoming self-sabotaging tendencies; and "Ax" is a call to be kind in the face of negativity. Perhaps most impressive is "Never Going Back," which describes (hopefully) breaking free from a disastrous affair: "The ending of 10,000 dreams/ My soul has finally been set free from his cool eyes." The song is devastatingly effective because of its economy, the same trait that also makes Kid Face a wonderful record.

Native Informant begins with a tense, mournful clarinet, sobbing quietly in bent phrases. The soprano Melissa Hughes joins in, her voice blending eerily with the clarinet. The piece is "Tahwidah," by the composer Mohammed Fairouz, and it blends harmonic languages and geography in a way that will remind modern classical listeners of the famous Osvaldo Golijov, before the composer got lost in his own hype. The piece is meant as a lullaby, but it carries a deep sadness that could curdle milk.

Native Informant is an arresting showcase for Fairouz's voice, which is plangent, melodic, folkloric and unpredictable: His lines spool out in ways that don't follow your ear's predetermined path for them. He wrote eloquently of soaking in Armenian and Lebanese art and poetry for the Huffington Post, and Fairouz's music is that of a thoughtful traveler: Native Informant traverses boundaries without ever losing its gentle footing.

As gentle as mist settling over a lake at daybreak, Nightmare Ending, the latest album from Eluvium, is a work of tender beauty. Piano drifts down slow as snowflakes, soft bands of sound expand and Yo La Tengo's Ira Kaplan turns in a lovely, fragile vocal on "Happiness."

Selected Studies Vol. 1

Lloyd Cole & Hans-Joachim Roedelius

Hans-Joachim Roedelius is a towering figure of Krautrock: He formed Qluster (later renamed Cluster) and Harmonia, and his deceptively simple synth pieces in the late 1970s and early '80s are a genre unto themselves. Lloyd Cole is better known for literate guitar rock than synth drones, but here the two find a serene common ground, creating an airy, spacious album full of twinkling, twirling little mobiles. The music seems to move forward and backward at once: Roedelius's genius was in creating gently hypnotic pieces out of minimal materials, and Selected Studies, belying its forbiddingly dry name, sparkles.



This invigorating retro-soul album comes from a duo consisting of one-time UK 2-step garage star Terri Walker and Nicole Wray, whose "Make It Hot" (under her first but not last name) was one of a half-dozen Jeep bombs Timbaland concocted in 1998. Nothing about Lady, also the name of their act, feels forced — Walker and Wray sound like they're having the time of their lives, not least because nothing is stopping them from getting to dig in lyrically. "If You Wanna Be My Man" analyzes a relationship sharply but without rancor ("You changed, and I changed/What we used to be") over a groove that's equal parts Spinners and Bill Withers. And the amazing "Money" is a bad-boyfriend anthem (she likes the green better than him) that doubles as a proud feminist declaration ("I feel proud that I'm an independent lady") — not to mention a classic soul single, whatever the calendar year.

Underdogs and Introverts

The debut album by this woman who calls herself Torres (real name: Mackenzie Scott) was recorded in a creaky old Nashville house that happens to be owned by Tony Joe White, he who gave the world "Polk Salad Annie." But that may have just been a lucky coincidence. These songs feel as if they were bound to come crawling out of Scott's body no matter what she did or where she was, a strange litter of scowling, writhing fuzzballs just dead set on getting born. Dominated by the wavery tones of her Gibson 355 electric, the songs explore the fragile architecture of human relationships, often finding Scott standing amid a steaming pile of rubble, wondering not about what caused the house to fall but what to do, now, with all the shattered pieces left behind. "Everything hurts, but it's fine, it's fine," she sings — almost seethes — on "Honey," the album's lead single, a languid meditation on stasis and confession that builds up slow around a ground-out guitar line and crests in waves of pummeling drums, frayed vocals, frayed everything. Though lit up with distortion and drum-machine pulses, Torres is easily imaginable as a stripped-down acoustic affair, and in some ways might be better as such; "Come to Terms" finds Scott unplugged and fingerpicking, allowing lines like "just because the two of us will both grow old in time/ don't mean we should go old together" the time and space to make their full devastation known.

The first two minutes of Lady Lamb the Beekeeper's Ripely Pine seem to reinforce the notion of fragile acquiescence that 23-year-old Aly Spaltro's stage name suggests. "Take me by the arm to the altar/ Take me by the collar to the cliff/ …Take me by the braid down to my grave," she croons on "Hair to the Ferris Wheel" over a languidly-thumbed electric guitar, the ghost of an autoharp shuffling around in the background. But on this, Lady Lamb the Beekeeper's first record cut in a proper studio, nothing is quite as it seems. Just when a lesser song might be content to wrap up its delicate reverie, the wool is ripped away and a Technicolor blast of crunchy guitars and detached-garage drums gush forth, Spaltro's dusky voice bottoming out over the deluge. This is par for the course on Ripely Pine; these songs tend start in one place, end in another, and cycle through sometimes a dozen imaginings of themselves on the way — like "You Are The Apple" which, over seven minutes, slides from a nervous acoustic twitch to a swampy low-slung romp to a billowing, spiking orchestral swoon. The album's lyrical turf is both elemental and surreal, like a funhouse mirror turned on a dream of an anatomy lab; hearts are eaten like strawberry cake, blood is canned like jam, love is handled like a newborn's skull. By the end, it's clear those opening lines weren't a coy feint, but a trap; it's you who is being led, and Lady Lamb the Beekeeper with her claws in your arm. And you will go with her — to the altar, to the grave, wherever — and love every weird minute of it.

Bilal's career is odd: He is indelibly associated with the rise of early-'00s neo-soul, and while he hasn't become as famous as some of his contemporaries, he also didn't disappear down a wormhole like D'Angelo. Bilal's elastic, glorious voice has been a reliable presence on Roots records and other rap projects over the last 10 years, but his solo career, hampered by the usual setbacks, sputtered. His name seemed destined to be forever preceded by a "ft."

A Love Surreal, released last winter, is only his third in 12 years, a batting average only slightly higher than D'Angelo's. The album doesn't reflect any bitterness or discontent, however; it is a lush, relaxed album, one that pivots neatly between styles. "West Side Girl" is grotty, sexy and Prince-ly; "Slipping Away" gazes at the stars like Donny Hathaway; "Lost For Now" even sounds remarkably like Big Star.

Now 16 years into his career, Arrington De Dionyso is essentially doomed to be underrated. His work with the brilliant, ignored Old Time Relijun channeled the same chaotic mania of The Pop Group, full of slashing voodoo guitars, hyperventilating percussion and De Dionyso's urgent, terrified howl — which bore more than a passing resemblance to Pop Group frontman Mark Stewart. Since embarking on a solo career in 2006, his work has only gotten more daring and more fascinating. It's guaranteed to appeal to anyone with any measure of fondness for pioneering late '70s UK groups like the Slits, Swell Maps and PiL. Like those groups, De Dionyso dismantles jazz, dub and reggae and uses the individual elements to create something riveting and otherworldly. "There Will Be No Survivors" crawls grimly forward, a strangled saxophone punctuating De Dionyso's seething promise: "We're going down in flames." "I Create in the Broken System" is essentially Satanic reggae, De Dionyso doing his best Don Van Vliet over burnt-to-a-crisp, undead two-step. The title track is glorious cacophony, full of falling-down-the-stairs drums, horror-house organs and De Dionyso's madman proclamations ("I am the shapeshifter! I am the song of psychic fire! 10,000 tigers in my temple!") It's one of the year's most fearless records, daring music for those who dare investigate.

Maxmillion Dunbar, a DJ/producer from Washington, D.C., makes sleek, spacious electronic music pitched between the current vogues for the rhythmic action of vintage Chicago house and the heady contemplation of cosmic synthesizer jams. About half of House of Woo plays as certifiable dance music, with upright rhythms that assert themselves with force, while the other half has nary a beat to speak for. Representing the former, "Slave to the Vibe" opens with unbound '80s keyboard sounds, patiently arrayed in floating fashion, that snap into a formalist grid when the beat kicks in a little more than two minutes in. The way the hi-hat hangs in what sounds like a sweaty expanse of the stratosphere evokes old Chicago house anthems by the likes of Larry Heard (Mr. Fingers, Fingers Inc.), but "Woo" pulls back, quiets down, and drifts into comparatively ambient territory. A few beats still clack and clang, but the background textures creep the fore, and a wandering, thinking-out-loud synth-riff establishes itself in a way that remains present in tracks like "Coins for the Canopy" and "The Figurine (Nod Mix)." The funky dancefloor-filler "Ice Cream Graffiti" goes big and beat-intensive again, but it's never long before the sound spaces out and spreads in a manner befitting the title of "Loving the Drift."

Ugly Heroes is comprised of two rising emcees, Verbal Kent and Red Pill, and one veteran producer, Apollo Brown, who set out to create rap music that embodied the spirit of the diminishing blue-collar workforce. "It's the person that works on your car. It's the factory worker that's counting parts all day, smelling like oil and grease," Brown says. "That individual that provides for their family, makes a living and is a human being — that's a ugly hero." Ugly Heroes' debut, self-titled album takes a hard look into a life of grueling work: clocking in long hours, drinking afterward and somehow maintaining enough strength to continue.


Hiss Golden Messenger

After making music for nearly 20 years, veteran Michael Taylor is just now finding his largest audience with Hiss Golden Messenger. It's actually his third band, following the short-lived punk group Ex-Ignota and the longer-lived San Francisco alt-country act The Court & Spark. When the latter broke up in 2007 — after four albums and nearly a decade of near-constant touring — Taylor settled down in Durham, North Carolina, where he started a family, pursued a degree in folklore, and made music more as a hobby than as a priority.

Over several albums — a few self-released, a few more via North Carolina indie label Paradise of Bachelors — Hiss Golden Messenger has alternated between an austere solo acoustic project for Taylor and a full band featuring Scott Hirsh on guitar and Terry Lonergan on drums. For Haw, the fourth and arguably best release under the HGM moniker, they added members of Lambchop, Megafaun and the Black Twig Pickers to the line-up. Whether alone or with friends, however, the primary elements of Hiss Golden Messenger remain constant: Taylor's voice, which sounds both genial and mysterious, and his lyrics, which examine thorny issues of faith, fidelity and family.

The house band at the Wild Rumpus, Greek grime peddlers and brothers-in-arms with fellow countrymen Acid Baby Jesus and Gay Anniversary deliver big, clanging songs built for late-night deep-woods campfire dancing. They've got two drummers, which is probably part of what makes the music feel so frantic: "Koritsi Stin Akti" roars forward like some kind of demonic Mustang out for one last, doomed street race; "Bye Bye Girl" is deranged country, twanging guitar and full-gallop percussion while "Ravening Trip"'s steady chug almost sounds like a bunch of greasers mocking Madchester, its shuffling backbeat smothered by horror-film riffing. This is party music for 20-foot monsters.

Come Cry With Me

Daniel Romano

Singer/songwriter Daniel Romano hails from Canada but sounds like he's from America's Deep South as he writes old-school country ballads sung in a deep, Man-in-Black drawl. On his latest record, this year's aptly titled Come Cry With Me, there's a dirge about unrequited love, reflections on being a rejected middle child, and a rambling saga about getting a ride with a guy who calls himself Chicken Bill.

Jay Arner's self-titled solo debut begins with a low bass groove that sounds like an engine idling, ready to rev "Midnight on South Granville" into high gear. To say the song never bolts away is no complaint, though, as the lyrics recount a night spent catching the bus, missing your stop, getting lost and wandering aimlessly. Set against that chugging bass line, those buzzy synths and that stoner guitar, half-drunk anomie has rarely sounded quite so epic. A Vancouver-based musician who has helmed albums by Mount Eerie, Apollo Ghosts and Rose Melberg, Arner recorded these new songs during lonely sessions at his practice space, recording straight to laptop to emphasize a DIY mid-fi sound, and the resulting Jay Arner mixes mopey postpunk instrumentation with power-pop song structures. Even though the unhurried tempos are far too laidback to sell the "power" in the pop, that spacey, narcotized vibe can be deceptive: The music reveals new sonic and lyrical details with each listen, whether it's the M.C. Escher hook on "Broken Glass" or the world-weary cautions of "Nightclubs," which finds a tricky balance between wry and romantic.